FTN - 6/3/01

face the nation logo, 2009

BOB SCHIEFFER: This week, the Democrats officially take over the Senate as a result of Senator Jeffords' party switch. Will they try to stop the Bush agenda or work with the president's administration?

We'll ask the incoming assistant majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and three incoming committee heads, Senator Carl Levin of Armed Services, Senator Jeff Bingaman of Energy and Senator Patrick Leahy, who'll head the Judiciary Committee.

Then we'll talk about the divisions in the Republican Party with Rick Burke of the New York Times and Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal.

Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on Casey Martin.

But first, the new Democratic Senate on Face The Nation.

Good morning. And joining us from Reno, Nevada, is the assistant majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, the incoming assistant majority leader. From Burlington, Vermont, Senator Pat Leahy. With us from Los Angeles, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. Here in the studio, Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, all of whom will be heads of new committees.

Senator Reid, let me start with you. As the new incoming assistant majority leader, the first question I have to ask is, what's going on with John McCain? He has sent word that he is entertaining this weekend Tom Daschle, who's going to be the Democratic leader in the Senate. But he says it's just a social call, we shouldn't make anything of it.

I know that you have been talking to Senator McCain. Do you think that he is preparing to leave the Republican Party?

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NV: I think anyone that predicts what John McCain's going to do is in for some real bad odds. He is somebody that's unpredictable. He's very, very individualistic. He's someone that the country really cares a great deal about.

But fortuitously, Senator Daschle and he are just having a social visit. This has been planned for months and months. So we're going to have wait and see what John McCain's going to do. This trip this weekend has really very little to do with whether or not he's going to become an independent or a Democrat. I think it has a lot to do with the personal relationship that he and Tom Daschle have.

SCHIEFFER: But you're not saying that you think he might actually leave the Republican Party, are you? Do you think there's a chance of that?

REID: No, I think there's - any time you deal with John McCain, there's a chance of anything.


REID: John McCain has been treated very poorly by the Republicans. I don't think - I think he, at this stage, has said that he's going to stay where he is, but I think they had be very, very careful how they treat John McCain. He's somebody that they make fun of privately. He's someone that they don't like as a party as everyone knows. And John McCain, I think, can only take so much, but we'll see what John McCain does.

I personally came to the Senae with John McCain in - well, actually came to the House and the Senate with John McCain, and he's someone that we all care a great deal about. But he's somebody that don't ever try to predict what he's going to do because, whenever you try that, you get in a lot of trouble.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about Senator Lott, the outgoing majority leader and the leader of the Republicans. It does not appear that he is going to go quietly.

He has issued quite a memo to what he calls Republican opinion leaders, and he says that one of his jobs now that he's in the minority is going to be to restore by the democratic process what he says what changed in the, quote, "shadows of the back rooms of Washington," and that is, of course, the leaving of Senator Jeffords from the Republican Party to become an independent.

Have you had any conversations yet Senator Lott? Do you think he's going to cooperate in this transition period?

REID: Well, I think that this memo that he wrote to other Republican senators is something that requires a little pounding on his chest.

The fact is that, you know, anyway you use the math the Republicans come behind. I mean, it's 49 to 50 or 51 to 49. And he starts talking about this democracy and how the majority should prevail. I think he should look at his own presidential election. That didn't work out too well mathematically unless it's some kind of "new math."

The fact is, as the Democrats are now in control of the Senate, we're going to do everything we can to cooperate with the former majority leader, now the minority leader, Senator Lott, and we're going to do everything that we can do to get along with President Bush.

I think there is really a need for bipartisanship now. I think the president needs us; we need him. It seems to me to be a formula for success, and I hope we can do more than just talk about being bipartisan and really show some bipartisanship. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Senator Levin, let me just read you something else from this memo. It says that the Democrats' effective control of the Senate lacks the moral authority. How do you respond to that, of any kind of a mandate from the voters?

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MI: Well, there's people back home in Michigan respect conscience, and the act of Senator Jeffords was an act of conscience. He just simply felt totally isolated, and he felt that the Republican agenda reflected by the leadership in the Senate was just simply too far out for him.

He listed all the areas where he had fundamental disagreements with the Republican leadership. He started off with budget, tax, energy, environment, choice, judges and on missile defense. Well, that's a pretty long list of fundamental disagreements. He reflected his own conscience. It was a moral decision.

We all know Jim Jeffords individually as an incredibly kid, gentle human person; not at all power hungry. Probably one of the least power-hungry people you'll ever meet in politics. And the people back home respect an act of conscience, and people back home in Michigan basically are saying people should follow their own light.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let me get to one of the things that you'll be dealing with as the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee. There is more trouble in the Middle East. Do you think the United States ought to be doing more there than it's doing now?

LEVIN: We surely ought to be offering to do more and be willing to do more. And I think the administration has been too disengaged, not just in the Middle East, but in other places around the world. And I would hope that we would offer to do what the parties feel we can usefully do, because perhaps our leadership, and our leadership alone, has any hope of trying to restore some semblance of peace and order so we can get back to negotiations.

BORGER: Senator Bingaman, let's talk a little bit about energy policy. You are the new chairman of the Energy Committee. You seem to take an entirely different view from this administration vis-a-vis energy matters. You have called for price caps on electricity in California and out West. Will that happen?

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN, D-NM: Well, I haven't really called for price caps. What I called for is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the president, of course, appoints to carry out its legal responsibility under the Federal Power Act, and that is to ensure that the rates that are charged are just and reasonable. And they clearly have not been. The rates for wholesale power going into California have been exorbitant. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been AWOL on that issue up until now.

I hope that, with the two new commissioners, we will see them step up to that responsibility and impose whatever restrictions they believe are essential. But I haven't myself - I don't think Congress should be legislating caps.

I think what we should be doing, though, is ensuring that FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, carries out its responsibilities.

BORGER: And if that doesn't happen?

BINGAMAN: Well, if that doesn't happen, then obviously there may be a cause of action in the courts. We may need to strengthen the law to ensure that they carry this out.

The Congress is not equipped with the expertise to know what ought - what price ought to be set or what is a reasonable profit in that circumstance. But clearly the market is broken in California, and someone needs to step in and deal with that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you agree with Senator Levin, who's already announced that his subcommittee on investigations is going to look into price-gouging? Do you think there is price-gouging?

BINGAMAN: Well, I don't know if there's price-gouging, and of course t depends on how you define that, I guess. But what we're going to look at, frankly, is what we could do by way of legislation this summer to put the country on a track toward dealing with our energy challenges, and I think that's what our committee will primarily focus on.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Leahy, let me turn to you now. You're heading of Judiciary, which is sure going to be one of the hot spots up there. The administration is already talking about that your committee, now that you're in charge, will try to bottle up its nominees.

What do you see your role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to be? Is it to shape the judiciary? Is it to stop the president from putting more conservatives on the bench? Just where do you see your main job to be?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT: Well, I think my main job is to uphold the Constitution, especially the advice and consent of the Constitution. I'm not trying to appoint judges. That's the duty of the president of the United States, whoever he might be.

But the advise-and-consent rule has been there from the time of the beginning of this country, and put for a very specific reason, especially when it comes to lifetime appointments to the judiciary. It's there so that you don't have the federal judiciary lurch either to the right or to the left ideologically, and that you have an independent, highly professional federal judiciary.

Remember, the founders looked at this very carefully. If you're going to give somebody a lifetime position, they wanted to make sure there was some check and balance, so that the president wouldn't stack a court - ideologically stack a court either way. And they put the Senate in a role of advising and consent.

I think, in the 25 years I've been in the Senate, I can't think of any greater responsibility than to make sure that that advise-and-consent rule is followed, because these judges are going to be there long after I'm gone, long after President Bush is gone. And we have to do that.

But, you know, this idea that there's going to be some kind of confrontation for the sake of confrontation is really foolish. There have - we've been there six months now. They have not had - the Republicans have not had any confirmations of judges or hearings. I intend, as soon as we're organized, to start having those. And I'm not - I will work with the White House. I've talked to them about that.

But we have a lot of other things on our plate besides just judges.

For example, we know that as good as the FBI might be in a lot of their investigations, they've had some egregious problems in the past two years. And I think it is time that Republicans and Democrats, using the Judiciary Committee, do an overall look at the FBI, an in-depth look, to find out why the mistakes were made in Atlanta during the Olympic bombing, the alleged spy that, apparently, everybody ignored all of the signals that they had a Russian spy in their midst, We Ho Lee, the screw up on the evidence in the Timothy McVeigh case and other things.

And I think that, as good as the FBI is, there are some very structural problems, and I think our committee should look very closely at that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you have in mind? Do you want to go through this when the president sends up a new nominee to head the FBI and sort of examine it there? Or do you want just full-scale hearings into the way the FBI is run? Where are headed on this?

LEAHY: Well, I think I'd do both. You know, this is an ideal time to do it, when you're going to be changing the head of the FBI. And Louis Freeh has done some very good things, but we're going to have a new director of the FBI. And I think that we have to make sure that whoever it is takes hold of these problems, these systemic problems, within the bureau.

You know, the bureau lives sometimes as an isolated area where they forget that they're responsible to the attorney general and they're responsible to the Congress and Oversight.

We should be doing this even if there wasn't any change. I intend these to be very serious hearings. I intend it to be a very searching hearing. And I would hope that we'd have a better FBI as a result.

BORGER: Senator Reid, when Congress comes back this week, do you intend to re-open the Bush tax bill?

REID: No, we don't intend to re-open the tax bill at this stage. I think what we're going to do is try to finish - after we do the organizational rules, we're going to immediately go and finish the education bill. That's the number-one issue to the America people, the people here in Nevada and all over the country.

I think we have to also make sure that, for once, we have an open debate on the patients' bill of rights, and we're going to do that right away. We've been trying to do that for five years now and have been unable to do that.

So those are the first items that we're going to take care of. And we hope that we can let the American people know that we're serious about legislating. We want no fighting. We want to legislate.

SCHIEFFER: But I want to just make sure, because there have been reports that Democrats might try to undo portions of this tax bill. You're telling us this morning, that's not what you intend to do?

REID: Well, I think that the tax bill is something we have - I see in the spread across the papers all over America today the fact that George W. Bush is now beginning to realize that he can't have these huge upticks in the military budget if he has this tax and budget program that he has.

I think we may the administration looking at their own budget and looking at their own tax bill, because they're the first that are going to come begging for more money that isn't there, with this buildup that they're going to try to do in the military.

BORGER: Senator Bingaman, very quickly, can you just give me a pognosis on drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve? Up or down?

BINGAMAN: Well, I don't think it's going to happen. I haven't thought it was going to happen since the Congress started.

BORGER: And let me ask Senator Levin, how about a prognosis on missile defense? Will it get built during this term for President Bush?

LEVIN: A lot less likely. We're going to trying to force a realistic look at the downside of it: What happens when you unilaterally rip up a treaty and deploy a system which could trigger very negative, very dangerous reactions? So a lot less likely now, but still possible, but we're going to force a real realistic look at it.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, gentlemen, thanks to all of you for coming by this morning.


SCHIEFFER: Go ahead.

LEAHY: Could I just add briefly that Senator Levin talked about Senator Jeffords. I've been up here in Vermont the past week. Let me tell you, among both Republicans and Democrats, the vast majority of Vermonters are very proud of what Jim Jeffords did. They don't share Senator Lott's views on that at all.

SCHIEFFER: All right. On that note, we have to end. Thanks to all of you. I hope to see all of you further down the road.

We'll be back in a moment with our roundtable.


SCHIEFFER: Well, you just heard the four new leaders of the Democrats in the Senate. Let's talk now with some newspaper folk to see what they make of it: Paul Gigot, the columnist at the Wall Street Journal, and Rick Burke, who is the political editor of the New York Times.

Paul, what do you think this means now for President Bush and his agenda? You heard these four men.

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think it means he has a challenge on his hands, and he has a challenge because he's now got to use the bully pulpit, I think, to compete with the Senate Democrats in setting the agenda. He really had it to himself with control of both houses of Congress before. Now, obviously, these people have a forum, they have authority.

He's going to have to use that bully pulpit to shape legislation, if he wants to get anything done, a patient's bill of rights. The education bill probably will get done anyway, because we're well along on that.

But he really does need to show that he can communicate with the American public and move the public to be able to move the Congress.

SCHIEFFER: They were all talking about how they want to be conciliatory, how they want to work with the White House and Republicans. Do they mean it?

GIGOT: It's a smart strategy.


GIGOT: The public wants people to demonstrate that they can get things done. President Bush, of course, had a very successful campaign selling that theme of conciliation. He's still pushing it. He's pushing it even with Senator Daschle, sayin we can get along, trying to meet with him more than he has.

So, the public seems to want that. Whether they mean it or not, I think we'll see some fights before too long.

BORGER: Rick Burke, just what is John McCain up to?

RICK BURKE, The New York Times: I think John McCain is up to getting a lot of attention. I mean, his people are out there floating the idea of a third-party candidacy. John McCain went out there again yesterday, for the second time in about a week, saying, "Oh, I hope this - I have no intention of running an independent candidacy." Yet he's not telling his advisers to be quiet. I think he's - they're stirring things up, and I think it's all about John McCain and putting more muscle into his own policy proposals on the Hill.

I think, when there's more publicity about what he wants to do, and if he's thinking about bolting the party, I think that only strengthens his hand, gets people to pay attention to him, like the president, who called him yesterday and said, "What are you up to?"

I think it's also - you can't forget the fact that John McCain likes to get attention. I mean, he built his presidential campaign on favorable press coverage, and I think that's part of it.

SCHIEFFER: But there really is considerable tension in the Republican Party right now, especially amongst Senate Republicans? Because here, on the one hand, you have the moderates like Olympia Snowe saying that the White House has to reach out to the moderates, they have to broaden their base. And yet you see Senator Lott, who seems to be moving more to the right and saying, "We've really got to firm up and fight for what we believe in."

What do you make of that, Paul?

GIGOT: Well I don't know if he's moving to the right programatically so much as he is as a matter of tone. I mean, he basically is saying, "I'm going to be more aggressive."

What you hear from a lot of Republicans privately is that Lott has let Daschle run rings around him in defining the agenda, offering amendments. Lott's been so worried about process that he's been getting beaten. And they're saying, we need Lott to fight. And if Lott loses seats - if Republicans lose seats in 2002, he's not going to be leader anymore.


BURKE: I'm struck by the tension in the Republican Party over how to deal with this change in the Senate, because you have Trent Lott putting out this defiant memo saying, "We're at war with the Democrats. We're not going to stand down. They don't have a mandate." But then you have other conservatives like Senator Sam Brownback saying, "Wait a minute, we have to moderate our positions a little bit."

You have the White House torn about that, people at the White House saying, "Maybe we should reach out more to Tom Daschle." But then you also have the president out there saying, "We're not going to back down."

So there's real tension over, do they keep o what they say is their mandate and their agenda, or do they moderate? And I don't think that's been resolved, and I don't think it's going to be resolved.

SCHIEFFER: Gloria, what do you think is going on over at the White House right now? How are they reading all of this?

BORGER: Well, I think what's interesting, as Paul mentioned, is that President Bush, of course, called John McCain to find out what's going on because he didn't want another Jim Jeffords situation.

I think they're confused. I think, in many ways, they confuse the United States Congress with the Texas legislature. And they thought, "Well OK, you know, we can bully these guys the way we used to in Texas." Well, it doesn't work that way when you have a 50-50 Senate. I think they're coming around to that view right now.

They can't afford to lose any more senators, and that is why they have to pay homage to John McCain, which kills them. They don't like him. Their staffs don't talk to each other. So I think it's quite difficult.

SCHIEFFER: Could the Republicans have kept Jim Jeffords from leaving Paul?

GIGOT: I don't believe so. I think that, ideologically, the gulf was growing, and Jeffords did feel more comfortable. He's going to be in about the middle to the left of the Democratic caucus now I think. So I don't think they could have done too much to keep him, I really don't.

SCHIEFFER: Whatever he thinks he's going to get from the Democrats - and he may get a lot - my guess is from here on in he does not get much help from Republicans.

GIGOT: No, I think that's right. And I think his beloved Northeast Diary Compact is in some jeopardy coming out of this, because there are a lot of Democrats, like Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, for example, who don't like that. And I think the White House isn't going to give him any assistance.

BURKE: Let's say, though, that this isn't entirely bad news for the Republicans. You recall what happened with Bill Clinton in '94. Everyone thought that he's doomed; he lost support in Congress; the Democrats are no longer in power. And it forced him to give an excuse to moderate his positions, to reach out to Republicans.

Look what happened in '96: It was a landslide reelection.

This gives the president an excuse, a rationale, to move a little to the center, if that's what he wants to do, and to silence the conservatives a little bit. And it also puts a lot of pressure on Tom Daschle and the Democrats to produce in the next election.

SCHIEFFER: All right, we'll end it right there. Thanks to both of you.

I'll be back with a final word in just a minute.


SCHIEFFER: Finally today, the Supreme Court has ruled that Casey Martin, the professional golfer who can hardly walk, can use a cart to get from hole to hole. This has given some golf purists the vapors, but my guess is that the old game wll survive.
It may even make the game more popular. Overcoming adversity and the odds has always been big box office. Just check the renewed interest in women's golf this week, when a golfer who is eight-months pregnant and a 13-year-old girl qualified for the Women's Open. That means big TV ratings, and big ratings mean bigger prizes. The pros will learn to live with that.

Still, it is a complicated issue over which reasonable people can disagree. The court ruled 7-2 in Casey Martin's favor.

What bothered me was the way Justice Scalia disagreed. He let go a sarcastic dissent that deserves attention, not so much for its logic, as for its callousness: "Now that Martin can use a cart," he wrote, "one can envision the parents of a little league player with attention deficit disorder trying to convince a judge that their son's disability makes it at least 25 percent more difficult to hit a pitched ball."

No, I cannot envision that because I fail to see the parallel. This ruling was about getting to the tee, not playing the game. But then, I'm not a lawyer.

But I am a father. What I can envision is how the parents of children with learning disabilities must feel when they are held up to ridicule by a justice of the Supreme Court.

Well, that's it for us this week. Join us next Sunday for an exclusive interview with - who else? - Senator John McCain, on Face the Nation.

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